I know I said I was going to to a Twitter & Tumblr Roundup today, but I completely forgot that today was a scheduled blog party (#mhbogday) for the American Psychological Association! Their challenge: How can you help people recognize the importance of good mental health, overcome stigma, and seek out professional mental health services when needed? Well, first off, I think that mental health is something we shouldn't just consider when it's needed. Mental health is like physical health. We all participate in mental health exercises, we just take most of them for granted. We can enhance our mental health with training and guidance from professionals, no matter what condition we're in. And most people have a "non-serious" form of a mental health issue, and manage it successfully all their lives. There is nothing about mental health that we need to be ashamed about.
Like physical exercise, most people get their mental health from regular daily activities. We engage in routines and rituals that help calm us with their familiarity. We do our morning routine before work, we check off each item in our routine as we complete it, we head into our day knowing we have started off on the right foot by doing all we're supposed to do. This process is so unconscious that we don't even notice it. But when our morning routine is upset, when there's some emergency that interrupts us, boy can we tell in our mental state! Things feel discombobulated, we feel out-of-sorts. Our day moves forward, but we're a little on edge, because our morning mental routine was thrown. We become aware of how important this habit is to our mental health.
Similarly, rituals like birthdays or going to worship, also help us feel a sense of normalcy and a connection to the flow of life. We take these things for granted when it comes to our mental health, when we engage in them successfully. But we notice how much they help our mental state the moment we can't participate. Being too sick to enjoy a birthday, or missing mass that we regularly attend, can upset us deeply. This makes absolute perfect sense! We look forward to these activities! Marking milestones helps ground us in a sense of accomplishment; they remind us of the BIG picture. Rituals like worship and holidays bring tradition and the past into the present; again, they remind us of the bigger picture. These things comfort and console us. When they're present, they help our mental health. When they're missing, we feel it.
As with physical exercise, we can add mental health exercises to our lives to help bolster our overall mental health. Professionals can help by teaching us new techniques and giving us new tools that we can then use in our every-day lives. It doesn't matter what shape we come into walking through the door, they can help improve our mental health. At the very least, validation from the professionals that we're doing well is benefit enough! But what is true of most people (myself absolutely included), is that we've grown up the best we can, but we've picked up a few issues along the way. We may have gotten them early (like childhood), or we may have gotten them through just trying to survive life (medical trauma, Katrina, 9/11, death in the family, victim of a crime). There is no such thing as "battle hardening." Eventually, life gets to everyone. There is no shame in this. And mental health professionals can help us mend the areas of our life where we are wounded in the soul.
Mental health issues can be no big deal, like a fear of spiders. That's not to diminish anyone's fear of spiders! But a fear of spiders can be managed by avoiding them as much as possible, not watching films that use spiders as a theme, having your house or apartment spayed with a chemical barrier, etc. A "serious mental health illness" is a legal term (from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is in the link above), and basically means severe impairment. This affects less than 5% of the population. Most people who use mental health services, like people who use physical health services, do it for a condition that is manageable. Yes, flares can happen that upset the regular flow, but on the whole, the symptoms do not interrupt life. Non-serious mental health illness is just like chronic physical illness. Most people have it, and you'd never know it unless they told you. It is nothing to be ashamed about.
Me personally? I've mentioned here that I have PTSD from my medical experiences. I can have panic attacks trying to see a doctor. It's nothing personal: I don't like doctors. I've been treated horrifically, and I've nearly died twice: once from an adrenal crisis when my blood pressure bottomed out, and second, from a MRSA infection following my surgery. It would be abnormal to go through those situations, and not have it affect your mental health. So, yeah... I'm a little nuts. I'll own that completely.
I also have very rapid-cycling hypomania and depression as a regular function of my migraines. That's what happens when your body dumps its supply of serotonin from the brain and blood. The only thing I can do is hold on to the best of my ability until it passes. I have symptoms like a visual aura, and ways to watch my behavior, that let me know when these moods are coming on. I have tools I've learned, and management techniques I've picked up (never go shopping when in hypomania---everything looks like a good idea!) to keep me safe. I'm on a long-term SSRI medication (#headmed) that works well enough, but it certainly doesn't do a complete job. Hopefully Big Pharma and science will come up with some better answers, soon. Until then, I manage well enough, and things have gotten much better since I got pain control.
We are making amazing technological advancements in our understanding of the brain, and how it functions. From this, we are learning more about all ranges of mental illness, from the mild to the severe. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, whether you were born with it (and therefore had no choice in the matter) or picked it up along the way (like a bad flu or a broken bone). It's not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of survival. It's the wide range of normal, human behavior. Our mental health is like our physical health---and we should take good care of ourselves! This includes check-ups with a doctor (even if it is just to tell us we're doing fine). We can raise awareness, and take away some of the #stigma, so that people who need help, aren't afraid to get it. Be proud of your mental health! We all have scars...